The recent opening ceremonies for the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas were a reminder of, among other things, the outsize influence the Lone Star State has had on the rest of America.
Texas gave the United States not only George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush, but also Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Phil Gramm, Tom DeLay, and Ron Paul. The computer company Dell is based there, as is Whole Foods Market. Texas's abortion laws and a Texas plaintiff who opposed them gave rise to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.
Erica Greider reminds us of all this in her new book Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What American Can Learn From The Strange Genius of Texas. She has an eye not just for the historically significant fact but also for the telling cultural detail — she mentions a Fort Worth restaurant that listed a chicken-fried steak on its menu as "on the lighter side," and a Houston plastic surgeon who had his home swimming pool built in the shape of an augmented breast.
What concerns us here, though, is less Texas taste in cuisine or swimming pool design but in public policy. Ms. Greider, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, refers to the "Texas model" of low taxes, low regulation, tort reform, and spending restraint. She traces its origins in the history of Texas, its cowboys and its oilmen and its brief history as an independent republic — "entrepreneurs did build this state, often with very little help from the government." The small government and limited spending mean that when Texans help each other out, they do it voluntarily; Texas was second in the nation by one measure of charitable giving, according to a study cited in the book.
It's easy to respond by saying that if, say, Manhattan had the underground oil reserves of Texas, people would be writing books lauding the "Manhattan Model" of high taxes, extensive regulation, and expensive government. But as the Dell and Whole Foods examples demonstrate, the economic and employment growth Texas has seen in recent years has hardly been confined to the fossil fuels sector.
In regard to fossil fuels, one of my favorite passages of the book concerned the author's interviews, not in Texas, but in Louisiana, after the Deepwater Horizon spill. "It was striking to see such support for the industry in the immediate wake of the disaster in the area most affected by the disaster…despite the accident [which killed 11 people] people though the oil jobs were good jobs."
Two flaws mar what is generally a lively and thoughtful account. The first is what seems to be a derisive attitude toward Christian conservatives, or the religious right, or social conservatives. Parts of the book at times seem to assume readers share Ms. Greider's barely veiled aversion toward these groups. The second is a plea for Texas to raise its minimum wage above the federal minimum. The logic of what Ms. Greider writes in the rest of the book about the success of the Texas model undermines the two-paragraph case she makes for the minimum wage increase as a poverty-mitigation measure.
One of the blurbs on the back of the book says "if there were a book like this for each state I'd read every one." I might skip a few of the lower population states, but on the whole, I agree. The influence of Texas on America makes this one a good place to start.